Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On the Horizon: The Future of UltimateBet?

Phil Hellmuth looking obliviousCatching up on the podcasts once again. Kind of fell behind over the summer, but am now back to listening regularly to all of those listed over on the right-hand column. And, by the way, new episodes of the Hard-Boiled Poker Radio Show will be coming before too long.

Yesterday I listened to Big Poker Sundays (7/20 episode) and the Two Plus Two Pokercast (7/21 episode), both of which spent time discussing the ongoing UltimateBet scandal, particularly focusing on the decisions made by individuals who have chosen to associate themselves with the site. A couple of points came up in those shows that I wanted to share and respond to here.

Phil “Completely Oblivious” Hellmuth

On the Two Plus Two show, hosts Mike Johnson and Adam Schwartz spent some time early on discussing the recent week of Poker After Dark. Rather than follow the usual sit-n-go format, last week PAD featured a cash game involving Mike Baxter, Allen Cunningham, Tom Dwan, Phil Hellmuth, Guy Laliberte, and David Peat. In their discussion of the show, Johnson and Schwartz particularly focused on Hellmuth’s poor performance and apparent lack of awareness of how others perceive him.

That got the pair onto other Hellmuthian absurdities, including his non-response to ongoing revelations of insider cheating having occurred at UltimateBet -- the site for which he is a paid representative.

Regarding the latter, Schwartz said that he has “talked to somebody who’s very close [to Hellmuth] and [whom] everybody... would know -- I don’t want to say [who it is].” According to Schwartz, this person has “talked to Hellmuth about [the scandal], and Hellmuth is completely oblivious. Like, he thinks that nobody really pays any attention to any of this stuff.... He absolutely doesn’t think this is going to anything bad for his reputation.”

Most listening to the podcast (or reading this blog) are probably not surprised to hear this about Hellmuth. We’ve grown accustomed to his aloof behavior. We’ve also rolled our eyes at the recent ads in CardPlayer attempting to recruit more members into the “UB Army” (from one of which the above picture of Hellmuth in faux-military garb comes). A recent one includes a memo from “UB High Army Command” from “Eleven Star General Phil Hellmuth Jr.” in which he invites the reader to join the UB Army “and gain exclusive access to our TOP SECRET MISSION.”

We roll our eyes, of course, because we know what happened at UltimateBet. It wasn’t exactly a “super-user”-type account being exploited such as we saw over at Absolute Poker, though functionally speaking it was the essentially the same problem -- namely, players who had access to opponents’ hole cards were playing on the site and exploiting the games. Indeed, the problem was more grave over at UltimateBet than at Absolute, insofar as it apparently involved an external program one ran alongside the UB software that enabled the user to see opponents’ hole cards (and not a special account).

What makes the scandal especially grievous is that the scam was perpetrated by insiders -- as UB itself admits in its statement of May 29, 2008, “the individuals responsible were found to have worked for the previous ownership of UltimateBet prior to the sale of the business to Tokwiro in October 2006.” Since that claim was made, further questions have arisen regarding the nature of UB’s ownership and whether the “sale of the business” really represented a complete break from those responsible for the cheating. UB’s failure to respond to these questions has only increased suspicions regarding the site, its owners, and its spokespersons.

All of which makes ad campaigns about some “TOP SECRET MISSION” seem particularly inappropriate -- or “oblivious” -- wouldn’t you say?

The Future of UltimateBet?

While news about Hellmuth’s lack of awareness about how he is perceived isn’t particularly surprising to most of us, there was one statement made over on the Big Poker Sundays show that I found especially curious. Unexpected, even.

There hosts Scott Huff and Haralabos Voulgaris spent the majority of the show discussing both Tiffany Michelle’s decision to don UB patches during the last three days of play at the WSOP Main Event and responding to some of Annie Duke’s statements in recent interviews about the cheating scandals.

Both Huff and Voulgaris express astonishment at Michelle’s decision to go with UB. For a thoughtful explanation of that decision and situation, go check out Change100’s analysis from late last week (if you haven’t already). A lot of us share the BPS hosts’ incredulity at Michelle’s decision, and Change100’s explanation of the significance of the player-agent relationship here does a lot to help those of us on the outside understand what might have happened.

In the midst of expressing his view of how short-sighted Michelle was in signing with UB, Voulgaris made a statement which I found a bit surprising. He pointed out how these sponsorship deals generally are set up so as to pay more the deeper one gets in the Main Event; thus, if Michelle had made the final table, she’d likely be looking to make considerably more than whatever she got for wearing the UB patches on Days 5, 6, and 7.

“This final table is going to play out in November,” Voulgaris continued. “There’s like a better than fifty percent chance that UltimateBet won’t even be around in November to pay her. So it’s like ‘okay, yeah, I’m gonna sign up with a company that may or may not be out of business by the time I’m due to collect my money.’ Which is kind of, I mean, may not be a smart thing to do. I don’t know, I mean if I’m going to [sign] an incentive-based contract, I want to at least make sure the people are going to be around to pay me.”

Can this possibly be true? Is there really a “fifty percent chance” UB will close up shop by November?

I mentioned last week that PokerNews no longer operates as a UB affiliate. (They no longer promote Absolute Poker, either.) Also on the “better late than never” front, the Poker Players Alliance yesterday issued its “Response to Online Poker Cheating Scandals,” in which the PPA urges both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet “and their regulating authority, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, to provide full and transparent accounting of these breaches of the public trust to help lift the black cloud that has been placed over the industry.”

Without such “full and transparent accounting” of what happened, will others turn their backs on Absolute Poker and UltimateBet as well? Will CardPlayer, ESPN, and others stop accepting advertising from the sullied sites? And, most importantly, will players stop playing on them?

I’m thinking we’re looking at considerably less than a fifty percent chance UB will no longer be around come November. Then again, who knows what exactly General Hellmuth sees approaching on the horizon?

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Anonymous gtycoon said...

Well, I don't know if UB will be around or not but they sure changing things up right now with the merger of AP and UB. Not that there is anything great about this merger.

Here's a press release:

Today, the management of both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet announced the upcoming launch of CEREUS: a NEW POKER PLATFORM that will integrate the customers and features from both poker rooms, instantly making CEREUS the third largest online poker network.

CEREUS is the result of more than 12 months innovation and development. Absolute Poker and UltimateBet will retain their unique assets yet share more players, more action, more tournaments, incredible new features and massive promotions.

Paul Leggett, Chief Operations Officer of both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet, said:

“I am so excited to announce the launch of our new poker network CEREUS. This is a huge landmark for our company and online poker. I’m confident that Absolute Poker and UltimateBet customers will be thrilled by the new platform and we look forward to welcoming many new players from around the world.

“CEREUS not only delivers the best online poker experience; it enables our company to improve our operations and deliver significantly better value and service to our customers.

“Our company’s goal is to provide poker players with the ultimate online experience. The launch of CEREUS is a major step for us in achieving our goal and we look forward to making many more exciting announcements very soon.”

7/24/2008 11:26 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, gtycoon. I did see that release last night. Looks like more damage control (and/or a chance to misdirect uninformed customers), esp. w/the 60 Minutes piece due out some time in the near future.

7/25/2008 8:51 AM  

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